New York Jets Flight Crew member Mandisa didn't always have her mind set on becoming the charismatic dancer who struts her stuff on the Meadowlands sidelines and in the end zones every Jets home game.
Believe it or not, Mandisa spent her first year at Rutgers University glued to a keyboard, mouse and monitor, hoping to earn what she refers to as a "computer geek" degree.
"I was actually a computer information management major for my first year of college," Mandisa admitted with a huge, bright smile. "Computer work is really tedious and my mind was always elsewhere, so I switched.
"When you're a dancer, you can never do one set thing. You have to be constantly moving around," she said. "Working with computers is basically a thing where you have to be really, really into it. Plus I was the only chick in my classes and I could never get my programs to work!"
With the help of a professor, the young New Jersey native enrolled in Rutgers' Mason Gross School of the Arts. That professor wasn't some fed-up computer teacher either — it was her mother, Josephine, who teaches sociology at Kean University in Union, N.J.
"My mom was like, 'Why don't you switch and do something you really enjoy and try out the arts school?' " explained Mandisa. "She's a very smart woman. Sometimes she doesn't get the whole dance thing, but she understands that it's my passion so she's behind me 200 percent."
The Mason Gross School offers about 650 undergraduates the chance to study within the department of dance, music, theater arts and visual arts. Mandisa studied modern dance and in 2005 received her bachelor of fine arts.
"It's very abstract, kind of like a blend of jazz and ballet and everything," she explained to the dance-oblivious newyorkjets.com staffer. "It's really a different and vast style of dancing and it's taken on a whole entire different magnitude. It's cool because it's nothing like what I'm doing now, which is great in a sense because I feel as though it makes me a better dancer and just more rounded."
Aside from her modern dance coursework while at the state university of New Jersey's New Brunswick campus, Mandisa went through the required courses just like the rest of her Rutgers classmates, so she didn't get off as easy as one would expect.
"I still had to do Rutgers curriculum like geography and some horrible insect class," she joked. "It was gross!"
But dissecting bugs was worth it because dancing was and remains Mandisa's passion. Her studies at the Mason Gross School opened her up to an entire new level of dance.
"Our dance requirements were things like choreography and putting on student shows," she said. "I danced with the touring company for the school, so we used to put on performances for high school students and children with autism, which was really cool. We'd teach their classes and then perform for them.
"We would choreograph and put on the actual shows — everything from the lighting to the flooring, everything you could think of, we'd do it. Obviously, we were under the direction of a professor, but he would leave everything in our hands and it's a lot more tedious than you would think. It requires a lot of patience but the payoff is really cool. When the show goes well and things go awesome, it's a great sense of self-achievement."
Upon graduation, while the Mason Gross alum was ready to take on the world, it took a little while for the world to take her in.
"I did the whole dancer thing, working as a waitress and auditioning — that whole starving-artist bit," she admitted with a grin. "I would do little dance venues for a while, which was cool but it was still modern dancing. Then I got a role with the [Arena Football League's] New York Dragons last season and luckily from there I got this job with the Flight Crew."
Mandisa, the squad's only Jersey native, scored her dream job during the Jets' preseason this summer. But with every great job comes sacrifice. However, Mandisa's sacrifice comes in the form of gas money and brakelights.
"This is by far the best opportunity that has come my way," she said. "I have to sit in fabulous Long Island traffic on my way to every practice, but it's definitely worth it because the girls are awesome."